Friday, February 12, 2010

REVIEW: The Battle of the Labyrinth

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4)Riordan, R.  (2008).  Percy Jackson:  The battle of the labyrinth.  New York:  Hyperion Books for Children.


Appetizer:  Luke and Kronos are amassing monsters in preparation to attack Camp Half-Blood.  Aware of the danger, Annabeth is (finally!) given her own quest to find Daedalus, the creator of the Labyrinth and convince him to help the heroes in preventing the attack.

Percy, Tyson and Grover accompany her, but they soon discover going through the Labyrinth that runs below the entirety of the United States is even more difficult and maddening than they could possibly imagine.  They will have to turn to some unexpected people and even a potential enemy or two for help in the quest.

The tension are definitely building in Percy Jackson world!

Grover's search for the lost god Pan finally comes to a head, with the elder satyrs demanding Grover find the god of the wild within a week or he'll be stripped of his searcher's license.  Grover's search does turn into a giant didactic lesson about the environment.  Normally, that would annoy me, but I could kinda seeing that turn coming since the first book.  So, instead of being annoyed, I felt that it was an important lesson and that Riordan handled the scene beautifully.  (Can we say, lengthy quote for the dissertation?  Yes, yes, I think we can.)

This installment of the series was a little different when compared to the books that have come previously in that it's much more back-and-forth.  This novel is set over a longer portion of the summer and the characters travel all over the U.S. then back to New York then away again.  Although there were clear reasons for the back-and-forth, it makes the quest seem less focused and more confusing.

I liked the development of Nico's character.  At the end of the third book, he is set up as a foil and potential enemy for Percy.  Riordan plays with that throughout the story.  I kept wondering if Nico would turn on Percy.

Dinner Conversation:

"The last thing I wanted to do on my summer break was blow up another school.  But there I was Monday morning, the first week of June, sitting in my mom's car in front of Goode High School on East 81st" (p. 1).

"Think positive.  Tomorrow you're off to camp!  After orientation, you've got your date-"
It's not a date!" I protested.  "It's just annabeth, Mom.  Jeez!"
"She's coming all the way from camp to meet you."
"Well, yeah."
"You're going to the movies."
"Just the two of you."
"Mom!" (p. 2).

"Everyone knew the rumors:  Luke and his army of monsters were planning an invasion of the camp.  Most of us expected it to happen this summer, but no one knew how or when. It didn't help that our attendance was down.  We only had about eighty campers.  Three years ago, when I'd started, there had been more than a hundred.  Some had died.  Some had joined luke.  Some had just disappeared" (p. 44).

"We each turned toward a different tunnel.  It was ridiculous.  None of us could decide which way led back to camp.
"Left walls are mean," Tyson said.  "Which way now?"
Annabeth swept her flashlight beam over the archways of the eight tunnels.  As far as I could tell, they were identical.  "That way," she said.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"Deductive reasoning."
"'re guessing."
"Just come on," she said" (pp. 94-95).

"Makes sure you bubble each answer clearly and stay inside the circle," the Sphinx said.  "If you have to erase, erase completely or the machine will not be able to read your answers."
"What machine?" Annabeth asked.
The Sphinx pointed with her paw.  Over by the spotlight was a bronze box with a bunch of gears and levers and a big Greek letter Eta on the side, the mark of Hephaestus.
"Now," said the Sphinx, "next question-"
"Wait a second," Annabeth protested.  "What about 'What walks on four legs in the morning'?"
"I beg your pardon?" the Sphinx said, clearly annoyed now.
"The riddle about man.  He walks on four legs in the morning, like a baby, two legs in the afternoon, like an adult, and three legs in the evening, as an old man with a cane.  That's the riddle you used to ask."
"Exactly why we changed the test!" the Sphinx exclaimed.  "You already knew the answer.  Now second question, what is the square root of sixteen?"  (p. 183).

To Go with the Meal:

As with the other Percy Jackson books, students can use the novel to delve more deeply into learning about some of the lesser known myths.  Plus, since Percy relives a myth or two through his dreams, students can compare Riordan's version of the story to other collections and analyze the differences.

Since there is a huge battle scene (which felt very Lord of the Rings-esque), students can try to create a map of how they envision the landscape of the battle field.  If a teacher wanted to avoid potentially bloody illustrations, a teacher could also have students create their own Labyrinths.  To tie it with a geography lesson, they could map their labyrinths upon U.S. landmarks.

Also, there's a lovely, beautiful, well-deserved critique of education systems that are based upon standardized tests.  Riordan is very inventive and instead of having the Sphinx asks riddles about the human condition, she asks random facts, having contestants (cause her room in the labyrinth is set-up as a game show) fill out scantron sheets.  Well played, Riordan.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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